On Saturday, a car collided with an oncoming Metro light rail near Exposition Park, injuring 12 people, leaving one person in critical condition. The driver, a USC student, missed the “watch for trains” warning while making a left turn, causing the crash. The crash, which happened right off of campus, not only affected the USC community but also invited a heated, city-wide debate over the current Metro system layout and safety, shedding light on how much still needs to be done.
I couldn’t be a bigger proponent of the city’s public transportation system. Walking is my main mode of getting from point A to point B and my only form of recreational exercise, a way of living that I’m sure deviates from the driving majority. When the going gets tough and my legs give out, I’ll hop on a bus or train to continue my journey. Thus, I wholeheartedly support whatever funding the Metro system is receiving for its expansion and efficacy. I’ve noticed, however, through my two years of Los Angeles train-hopping experience, that the Metro is no London Underground or Taipei MRT. It’s not even the New York’s MTA.
Despite its lackluster transit currently in place, Los Angeles has been trying to match other cosmopolitan public transportation efforts in recent years. The construction of the first phase of the Expo Line (from downtown L.A. to Culver City) in 2006 cost $930 million. Phase two, which extends to Santa Monica, is costing $1.5 billion. New stations were added to the Expo Line three years ago, and currently, Metro oversees many projects, including the extension of the Purple Line to reach Beverly Hills and Westwood, and a train to take people directly to LAX. To provide L.A.-area citizens with an alternative to driving, which requires a costly vehicle and exhaustive energy during traffic hours, these plans must be carried out.
And then there’s the issue of safety. Anyone familiar with Metro would know that the sides of the trains are covered with a black and yellow cautionary messages. The accident on Saturday is a reminder that a simple PSA on the sides of trains are not enough to ensure traffic safety. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Blue Line poses the most danger to the communities it runs through. Since 1990, Blue Line trains have struck and killed 120 people. What needs to happen, according to USC engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, is for the Metro to be more clearly separated from oncoming traffic, isolating the Metro pathways completely with fortified structures such as gates.
Metro spokesman Marc Littman has protested this development, saying that, “All over the world there are trains operating safely in dense, urban areas. You can’t build a bubble around a rail system.” Littman’s argument is flawed because the pedestrians and drivers of Los Angeles can’t simply be expected to follow traffic directions. The city’s infrastructure differs from that of other metropolitans — it’s mainly dependent on local roads and freeways, whereas the railways in “dense, urban areas” Littman describes can be installed underground without worrying about earthquakes. Therefore, traffic destruction can be avoided.
As Los Angeles becomes more conscious about the benefits of public transportation, a few improvements must be made. That starts with strengthening the breadth and safety of the city transit system.
Danni Wang is a sophomore majoring in psychology. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.